Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Who's Spinning Whom?!? 2

One more note on the whole question of debate spin, media interpretation, and the rest of it. Erik Voeten says:
ps. as an aside: We should be careful not to suggest that debate performance doesn’t influence the media narrative. It does. But as John’s post notes, the effect of debates filtered by the media will differ from what the effect would have been if it had not been filtered.
Yup. I mean, to take the extreme case: it's hard to believe that anyone could have watched the "oops" debate and not come away with any headline other than that Rick Perry goofed in a big way. Except...well, even that one isn't true, if we think about it. I mean, you could basically ignore Perry, and focus on the other candidates, and that would push "oops" to the side, right? Or you could, I suppose, do a substance-heavy analysis that ignored as much as possible the stagecraft and theater aspects. Or...well, I looked back at my own reactions, and while I immediately acknowledged the magnitude of "oops," my main focus at my Plum Line wrap was on Herman Cain, and then went into lots of detail on Cain's performance the next day. Which isn't to say that I was "right" or anything, just that a lot of what people (myself certainly included) see in this stuff is extremely subjective, and it's very difficult to sort out how much of the eventual version that people are exposed to once it's through the filter is the debate itself and how much is the filter.

Now, the study I referred to earlier cuts through that by just measuring people's reactions based on whether they were exposed to the filtered or unfiltered debate (or both). And that's a good approach to the question they were asking. But if your interest is in how and why debates are filtered as they are, well, that's a pretty tricky problem, it seems to me.


  1. Quote: "But if your interest is in how and why debates are filtered as they are, well, that's a pretty tricky problem, it seems to me."

    Not tricky at all if you've studied the history of the American media, and their absolute love affair with themselves and their ability to stage and frame narratives of all types. At this point in 2012, no person who works as a producer or executive in any of the major or minor networks (with the honorable exception of CSPAN) could even conceive of "covering" a Presidential debate without an Announcer (who must have a $50 haircut and 50-cent brain), "glitter boxes" of moving computer-generated lights and sounds to introduce the segment, a preconceived narrative of analysis which presents one candidate as a relative winner and the other as a relative loser, and all the other stagecraft and accoutrements we've come to expect with an oligopolistic, unaccountable media industry.

    The trickier part is the economic history of the last 70 years, which has allowed and accelerated the growth of oligopolistic dominating corporations in all aspects of American life (and there has been some help from Congress and government along the way for political science junkies to study). Oligopolies haven't been good for long-term outcomes for consumers in any economic field (though there is a lot of consumer choice among trivial attributes of consumer products), but since the communications media does set itself up to be an arbiter of both truth and taste for the average consumer, the negative effects of the communications media on American democracy and civilizational progress have been the most damaging, and the most noticeable.

  2. Oh, I read part 2 before I read part 1, sorry. In this cycle and the last, the media universe has been expanded by the greater democracy of the internet era. It is possible that grass-roots analysts may "spin up" a conclusion from the debates that was not authorized by the oligopolist media. However, the television networks are still the primary media through which citizens will experience the debates and the spin debates that follow the debates, the networks still have huge advantages in locational and temporal positioning (both in terms of supply, getting the story and the clips, and in terms of fulfilling mass audience demand) and arguably the alternative analyses that may be generated by the "blogiverse" will only find traction to the extent that these analyses are repeated in/covered by the established television and radio networks.

  3. Can I nominate Yglesias's response to David Brooks column for the coveted catch of the day. Essentially Brooks wrote what he thought would be a good opening statement for Mitt. Yglesias points out that Brooks was telling Romney to: "in fact explicitly—and falsely—state that "there's no magic lever" the federal government can deploy to boost employment in a deeply depressed economy. Having promised to not deliver robust economic recovery, Brooks wants Romney to make the core of his economic agenda . . . tax hikes! Specifically the exact tax hikes Obama has been trying to get Republicans to agree to." He then points out that this would basically end Romney's campaign as it is massively unpopular with everyone other than David Brooks and other pundits. I think it is a nice catch as it is a great example of how divorced pundits can be from the political realities of this country, something they are suppose to explain to us. Also its a good example of why Brooks is not someone anyone should read.


    1. Won't have time to do a Catch today, but it's a good post.

    2. Yglesias' penultimate paragraph confused me.

      If I were Romney, I'd give practically the reverse speech focusing on the president's strange obsession with raising taxes. It used to be that I thought Democrats wanted to raise taxes because they love big spending. At least, that's how they did it in Massachusetts. But this president loves tax increases so much he was eager to betray his own party and slash Medicare spending in order to get them.

    3. @purusha He's criticizing Obama's attempts to raise taxes to reduce the deficit like during the "grand bargain" thing. Yglesias sees that as a form of austerity, like slashing spending, and thinks Obama should run higher deficits, by spending more and cutting taxes, to improve economic growth. Essentially Yglesias thinks traditional "tax and spend" policies are fine but "tax and reduce the deficit" is bad as it suppresses economic growth.

      @JB is this punishment for using "Congress" and "House of Representatives" interchangeably?

  4. Since you're not doing a catch, I'd like to offer up mine, though the editorial's a few days old: Bloomberg Executive Editor Albert R. Hunt's concern trolling piece, Obamman's Penchant for Arrogance Is Bigger Debate Foe.

    Obama and his top political advisers basically are contemptuous of their opponent, according to people who’ve spent time with the president in private. Four years ago, the Obama camp viewed John McCain as wrong for the times, but had personal respect for him.
    It’s different today. The president’s campaign sees Romney as an out-of-touch stiff without core beliefs, willing to say or do anything for political advantage.
    Fair or not, that’s a derisive characterization.

    And the supporting evidence that Obama's arrogant? Hillary's likable enough; and Romney get's excited re-writing speechs to add additional attacks on the president.

    That's not only derisive, it's total dog whistling.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Who links to my website?